I’m baaaaaack!

Yes, I’m back…..I didn’t quit, I wasn’t MIA, I didn’t throw my laptop out the window and I most certainly did not lose my passion for following in Oma’s footsteps to bake my way into everyone’s hearts……I simply took a little break from sharing all the deliciousness with the world (well, at least with social media!).  I was still busy baking away, sharing the goodies with friends and family and definitely enjoying EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of it!  Summers are busy for most people, vacations, kidlets out of school, barbecues, picnics, beaches….the list goes on.  I did partake in most of these, however, I’m a bit of a sports nut, especially in the summer when I can A) be outside doing as much as I can that is sports related or physically active and B) dust off my cleats and glove and get back on the diamond!  So that was basically what took up most of my free time over the past several months, hence the hiatus from blogging!

ballOk, sooooo I thought I’d come back with one of the most popular and tastiest cookies I’ve ever made (aside from my mom’s recipe, which came from my Oma).  They are not only incredibly simple, but they are gluten free and healthy – yes, healthy (unless you eat the entire batch in one sitting!)  The amazing chef responsible for this recipe is Vanille Verte’s Nathalie.  I’ve made many recipes from her site and every single one has been outstanding.  But these……these literally make your taste buds dance on your tongue!   Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Go ahead, say it out loud “Salted Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies”  Just saying it makes your mouth water and now you want to try one, don’t you?

                             salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-013     salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-014

Well there are only 6 ingredients in these and they literally take 20 minutes to make, so get to it.  One egg, peanut butter, coconut palm sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips and sea salt.  Seriously, that’s it!  Easy Peasy and did I mention Gluten Free??  The only tricky part (and it’s not even really all that hard) is that you cannot overcook these otherwise they will be really dry!

salted-pb-choc-chip-cookies-020Because these do not have any flour in them, the bottoms may burn a bit if they’re directly on the baking sheet, so be sure to line your baking sheet with parchment paper.  They don’t spread out too much, and when you scoop them out, they should be kept round-ish, so they will bake evenly AND that also makes it way easier just to pop them in your mouth in one bite   You will not be disappointed with these chunks of heaven.

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KUMBAYA!!

Last weekend we had a birthday celebration at the house – Jaks’ 2nd birthday and Hudson’s 13th birthday.  10 kids, all cousins, on a beautiful, sunny day, all playing, laughing, eating bbq’d hot dogs and burgers, being silly……being kids!  Along with Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandma, Grandpa, Great Aunts, 2nd cousins, friends, basically a nice, big family party.

  Happy Birthday   taste test2
What better fun birthday dessert could I make for the event, but Minion cupcakes!  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the Minions, they’re funny, cute, silly and they sort of walk to their own beat!  Making these definitely brought out the kid in me, (not that the kid in me isn’t out almost every day already)., but I got to make Bob, Dave, Kevin, Stuart and have fun making goofy smiles with them!  I used licorice wheels, giant marshmallows, the brown Reese’s Pieces and some black icing to create their faces.

End ProductFor the cupcakes, I used a basic vanilla recipe out of this amazing little recipe book I have from the Food Network Magazine.

  • 1 1/3c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1c sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2c milk

This book has everything from a birthday classic cupcake to salted caramel toffee to malted milk to passion fruit to root beer float – yes, we are still talking about cupcakes!  There are 50 different kinds of cupcakes……hmmmm, maybe this should be the recipe “book” that I use to make every recipe listed.  Not enough variety maybe?  We’ll see.  Anyway, back to my Minions…..I sliced the tops with an ‘X’ and filled them with a shot of vanilla custard just to give the kids an extra surprise when they bit into them, which was a HUGE hit!

           ready to mix    Filling

As much as using a boxed cupcake mix would be simpler and maybe save me about 5 minutes (ok, maybe 10)……there’s just something about a cupcake from scratch that is sooooo much yummier than a powder in a bag in a box where you add oil, an egg and some milk.  Nope, not gonna do it!!  Plus, I can also modify the ingredients and make it a “healthier” version if I want to.  Same goes for the icing – none of that plastic tub stuff.  I want the real deal……scrumptious, fluffy buttercream frosting, which conveniently, I found on the Food Network’s website.  Mmmmmm, YUM!  It’s crazy simple to whip up and it tastes way better than the ready made store bought icing.   From the looks on these little munchkins’ faces, I think it’s safe to say they’re “kid approved”!

Collage

So next time you’re throwing a birthday party for one of your kidlets, be creative, be adventurous, have some fun with the “cake”.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be the traditional cake that you cut into pieces for everyone – cupcakes are kind of like their own personal mini cake.  Plus, you won’t have anyone fighting over the flower, balloon or whatever the decoration may be on the corner of the cake slab so they can have extra icing!!

Happy BakingBusiness Card heart

 

Attack of the Giant Raisins

So, after being told several times by different people that I really should watch the movie “Julie and Julia” with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, I finally got the chance to.  It was very cute and it kind of planted a seed in my head…..I’m actually considering doing something similar – finding a really amazing dessert cookbook (recommendations are more than welcome – feel free to leave your ideas in a comment!) and making all the recipes in it!   The only 2 things I need is to find the cookbook and find someone (or multiple someones) that would volunteer as guinea pigs to try the end results of my efforts!  The other thing in the movie that came up was in one of the blogs that Julie Powell was writing, she asks if there is even anyone that reads her blog and I got to thinking the same thing!  Does anyone read this?  Do I inspire anyone to try making a new dessert or try to improve on a classic?  Is there anyone out there?  Or is it just me, writing my overspilling brain’s thoughts on to my computer screen?      On to today’s blog…………….

Growing up, I thought dates were “yicky” and this was probably because I thought they were like a prune or just giant raisins – which I also wasn’t a fan of.  In all honesty, up until about a year ago, I still wasn’t sold on them.  Then I tried my first date square and was kicking myself for not giving them more of a chance.  I realized that they are sweet and tasted like a brilliant mix of caramel, cinnamon and honey.  Plus, there are so many wonderful health benefits to them.  Aside from being filled with nutrients your body needs, like protein, anti-oxidants, B-Complex vitamins, potassium and magnesium (which both aid in the regulation of blood pressure and give you a big boost of energy), they are also a great source of fiber, and we all know how beneficial that is, especially for our digestive system!  Did you also know that they help combat arteriosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the walls of your arteries.

  • “The anti-oxidants in Medjool dates play an important role in ridding from the body bad fats as well as reducing the risk cancers. Their high fiber content also plays an important role in fighting deposition of plaque, mostly associated with development of arteriosclerosis.”   ~  www.healthbenefitsofeating.com

datesEnough from the side of my brain that is obsessed with the health factors that certain foods bring to us and over to the other side, the side that is obsessed with creating deliciousness and transforming these sweet, plump and luscious fruits into a gooey, thick mixture to cover a crumbly, soft crust.

pouring mixtureDate squares are actually quite effortless to make.  Chopping the 3 cups of dates is perhaps the most time consuming task of the whole process.  Nevertheless, chopping them by hand is the best approach, as you can decide how big or how small you want the pieces of dates to be.  I cut mine into medium sized chunks (about 8 little nuggets per date).  I found keeping them a good size helps keep the mixture a bit thicker, so when the final masterpiece is baked, the filling doesn’t ooze out the sides when you grab a square to sink your teeth into!  Add a bit of water, lemon juice and some brown sugar and pop the concoction on the stove to simmer it all together into a thickened, blended filling.  The crust and the crumble for the topping is a basic recipe – flour, butter, brown sugar, oats and a bit of baking soda.  You can get fancy if you want and add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, or some chopped nuts, whatever your taste buds are in the mood for that day.  Bake it for about a half hour and let the enticing aroma take over your kitchen.

fresh from the oven 
I guarantee these mouth watering squares will not last in your house!  But just remember that dates have a healthy dose of fiber and amino acids that will help “move things along” your digestive track, so it would be a wise decision NOT to eat half the pan of squares in one day!!

ready to eat

 

 

This amazing recipe was found on www.robinhood.ca

 

 

Banananaaaaas

I love using bananas when I’m baking, mostly because they are good for you and when you mush them up, they make such a great substitution for other not-so-healthy ingredients (like oils, butter, shortening or even eggs if you are wanting a vegan recipe).  The riper the banana, the sweeter the taste too, so with simple cookies where you only have a few ingredients (like this one), a riper banana will boost the taste a little. Don’t forget – cookies can be both delicious and healthy……you just need to use the right ingredients and ones that are whole and not processed.  These tasty little morsels are just that – with a base of bananas and oats, add in a bit of cinnamon and chocolate chips and voila, you have a cookie that will settle that craving and they take less than a hour to make!  I found this really easy recipe on simple-veganista.com.  So, yes, not only are they easy & deee-lish, but they are also gluten free and vegan!

  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • a handful of chocolate chips (about 1/2 cup)

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

ready to bakeIf you wanted to change them up a bit, you can always add in things like a splash of vanilla, dried fruit, a couple spoonfuls of nut butter, nuts or even a bit of coconut.  Anything that you might be craving that day!  This time, I decided to change my chocolate chips for butterscotch chips and they were a big hit!

Gluten Free Banana Oat Bites

Mushy Smooshy Heart Day

Yes, I’m talking about St. Valentine’s Day.  Some people look forward to this “holiday” as soon as New Year’s is over, some people loathe this day (for varying reasons) and some people (like me) are completely indifferent on the day.  It really has no bearing on the way, (or more specifically when), I show my love for those that are close to me.  The only impact it does have on me is that it’s an excuse to make some treats – not that I really need an excuse!  This year, I made something new and a bit different than just my regular lovey-dovey heart shaped shortbreads, something that is sort of trending lately – Cake Pops.  They were both fun to make and a big hit!  The nice thing about the cake pop maker I bought is that it came with a pretty good recipe book, with simple recipes from scratch.  To use the maker itself, is as easy as pie, as simple as ABC, like taking candy from a kid……well, you get the idea!  It’s like a waffle maker – you can only mess it up if you put too much batter in each of the divots, which if you follow the directions of 1 tbsp of batter, you’re good to go!

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Seeing as Valentine’s Day typically goes for reds, pinks, hearts, x’s & o’s, smoochy lips and chocolate, I thought it best to stick with tradition.  We don’t have a microwave (and honestly, I don’t even miss it!), so melting the chocolate in the oven is the best option for me – plus, I find melting chocolate slow in the oven just works better.  Dipping the cake pops into the chocolate does require a bit of patience, as you have to wait until the excess chocolate has dripped off so you don’t waste any or get it all over the place.  The secret to getting the stick to stay in the cake ball is to dip the end of the stick into the chocolate first, then jab it in (gently of course).

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If you plan on using sprinkles or small candies to decorate, keep in mind to roll the cake pop in the decorative whatever-you’re-using once the chocolate or glaze stops dripping and they are tacky, or you’ll get ‘bald spots’ on them!  And if you are drizzling chocolate on them, make sure the chocolate or glaze is dry, otherwise the drizzle just slides right off! Just remember that however you choose to decorate them, they will be amazing because it’s YOUR creativity that’s making them!

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Now of course, I had to make shortbread, but I wanted to do something really cool with them.  Something I hadn’t tried before, something that tested my “skills”.  So, these happened!  My simple shortbread cookies became pretty!  Ha

February 2016 054Although these took a little bit of time to create, it was relatively simple “artwork”.  It just took some diligence and a steady hand.  The trick to blending the icing without it running is to use flood consistency Royal Icing, which you can find on various different websites!  You will need a #1 icing tip to create the designs, as well as a scribe tool.  I wouldn’t try using a toothpick instead of the scribe tool, as the wood will soak in the icing and it will run, which won’t work too well for your little hearts.

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It’s also important to remember to let your charming little indulgences set overnight so they don’t stick together when you package them up for a beautiful little gift d’amour!

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Both cake pops and yummy shortbread cookies are great for all occasions – parties, luncheons, birthdays, family get togethers, even business meetings!  Contact me to place your custom order!

 

 

 

 

Christmas in……..January??

So, if you remember my blog post back in November on our family Thanksgiving, I mentioned that our holiday get togethers aren’t exactly always celebrated on time!  So, in keeping with our Levear tradition, this year’s Christmas was no different.  I know that when there are extended families involved with holiday gatherings, they don’t always happen on the exact date, however, we really pushed the envelope on this one and had our Christmas dinner on January 31st.  Yes, 37 days after the actual day!  But seriously……does it really matter that much when we have it?  As long as it’s still technically in the winter, right?  I probably shouldn’t mention then, that the weekend of January 31st was also the weekend that our temperatures were a record high of 17!  LOL.  Oh well, we still had a great dinner, as always!  We all piled into my brother’s dining room and once again filled it with copious amounts of laughter, loud conversation, a hodgepodge of beverages and crazy delish food!  We had a big, fat turkey with all the traditional fixings, including my sister-in-law, Angela’s, heavenly cranberry sauce, stuffing, taters, salads and veggies!  And in following Dutch tradition, my amazing mom got us all our Chocoladeletter.

Chocolate letterSince my brother was hosting all of us, I gave him the option of which dessert he wanted me to bring – my Oma’s apple pie or a cheesecake of some sort, which completely threw him for a loop.  He actually had to take a night to decide…….all I got the next day was a text with the word “cheesecake”.  I’m not the biggest fan of a simple (and in my mind, boring) cherry cheesecake, so I elected to go with a dark and white chocolate cheesecake.   And just to be sure I scored extra brownie points, I made sure to use Lindt chocolate too!

cheesecake 004Chocolate crust, with a rich concoction of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and the melted white chocolate.

                             cheesecake 001   cheesecake 006
Dollups of the dark chocolate blended with a bit of the cream cheese mixture, swirled in through the cake just enough to create a kaleidoscopic design and keep the contrast of colours visible, then into the oven she goes for the hour.

                            cheesecake 007   cheesecake 008

One of the first times I baked a cheesecake, I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few times to see how the cake was coming along – BIG MISTAKE.  By the time it was done, there were so many cracks across the top, it looked like remnants of an earthquake!  Needless to say, that cheesecake was topped with lots and lots of whipped cream!  Luckily, I’ve made enough cheesecakes since then to almost perfect them!  I’d say this one is pretty close and appears that it was quite popular too!

       cheesecake 016   cheesecake 032   cheesecake 023

Merry (very belated) Christmas everyone?? 

 

Rolling with my BIT (baker in training)

When it comes to baking, at least for me, it’s usually something you do on your own.  It’s my escape from…….everything really!  However, there’s always an exception and that’s when any of my nieces, nephews or friends’ kidlets ask me to bake with them.  I just can’t say no to spending some fun time with them and helping them make some yummy treats!

                          Kya chilling in the leaves    Kya waterfall b&w

This is Ric’s beautiful daughter, Kya.  I have the joy of being able to hang out with her on a weekly basis and just seeing her makes my day brighter!  She’s a ball of magnificent energy and her smile lights up a room, so when she asked me if we could make some cinnamon rolls together, I was all over it.  We picked out a recipe together from Food.com, which took us a little bit to find, as we were looking for a recipe that didn’t call for yeast (we didn’t have any in the pantry and wasn’t able to go out & get any).  Kya then took over the reigns and basically did everything from the measuring to the mixing to rolling the dough out on her own.

     Kya rolling   Sprinkling cinnamon   Cutting the roll of dough

She wanted them to be extra tasty, so we used a little more butter and cinnamon/sugar mix than the recipe called for on the dough before rolling it up!  My only job was slicing up the rolled dough and taking them out of the oven.  Now, I have to admit, we probably should have used a recipe that included yeast, as these ones came out a bit dense and flat, but they were still tasty…. just look at that big smile, it’s obvious that Kya enjoyed them!

cinnamon rolls yum

Heavenly Treats For The Holidays

Another year has come and gone and I hope that everyone had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and New Years.  I know, I know, the word relaxation within Christmas holidays for most people doesn’t exist and I can admit that I did my fair share of late nights and running around.  However, I can contribute most of those late nights to creating some heavenly treats as gifts to some of my friends and my family.  I threw in my ear buds with some great tunes and away I went making a floury and chocolaty mess in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I have an incredible space in the home where I live with a nice, big island and a double oven.  This definitely helps!  As I mentioned in a previously, I had a list made up a while ago of what I wanted to bake, I just had to cut in down a bit from the dozen or so that was on that list!  I finally settled on shortbread, chocolate truffles, spiced mocha fudge, peanut clusters and caramel pretzel bark, all of which, I’m proud to say got exceptional reviews

Christmas Cheer 2

Out of all these little morsels of ooey-gooey tastiness, I still, after more than 20 years, enjoy making my shortbread the most.  It’s your basic, simple ingredients – sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and flour, and when they are mixed and baked just right, the first bite is like a party in your mouth!

                           Shapes cut        Cut & baked

I had a customer that placed an order for 2 dozen French Macarons – 12 chocolate and 12 salted caramel, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to create these delectable little French almond meringue cookies once again.  Basically, these are what kept me up until the wee hours of the morning (which was entirely my own choice).   Whipping the egg whites just enough to create that slight peak, then gently folding in the cocoa without over mixing (otherwise you end up with flat and cracked Macaron shells), letting your perfectly round little discs harden just a bit at room temperature before popping them in the oven and keeping a close eye on them so they don’t overbake, which would make them hard and crunchy instead of light and chewy.  Messing up on any of these steps is what causes many bakers copious amounts of frustration and a lot of four-letter words!  I’ve had the good fortune of not having run into these issues (and hopefully won’t in the future) and having my French Macarons turn out – with a really great review from my friend that ordered them!

Egg whitesMixing Choc GanacheChocolate shells unbaked

 

 

 

 

I find that the trick to baking the meringues really well is rotating the baking sheet halfway through (I actually do this with all my cookies too).  Maybe it’s just me or maybe it really does help, but now that I’m in the habit of doing it, I have to do it all the time!  Not all Macarons are going to come out looking the same, some rise a bit more, some spread out a bit less, just remember that if they are still round-ish and not cracked, they’ll most likely have the same texture.  In fact, even when using the same recipe, they’ll likely be a tiny bit different each time you make them.

                            White shells baked        Chocolate shells baked

The filling for the Macarons is definitely the easiest part of these little 2-bite slices of heaven.  You can use either ganache, butter cream, meringue or jam, which so far, I’ve found that the ganache and butter cream pair the best.  Once you place a dollup in the centre of the cookie and gently press the top half on top of it, you have your masterpiece!

                            Salted Caramel         Chocolate French Macarons

Now that a new year is upon us, so is a new year of creations and adventures in the kitchen for me.  I am excited and happy to announce that I will be expanding my business and will now be offering Dessert Dutchess packages which will cater to weddings, private parties and corporate events.  Please contact me for more details.

I want to thank everyone for following my blog and I welcome your comments as well as suggestions for any baked goodies that you may want to learn more about – which recipe is the best, which to stay away from and why.

Easy Peasy Banana Bread

In the past 6 months, I think I’ve made this recipe at least a dozen times, I can almost make it with my eyes closed!!  This is because it’s both a delicious bread and also because of Leanne’s, Ric’s and consequently now Kya’s, Ryland’s and Jaks’ love, (I think it’s actually nearing obsession ), for banana bread.  Only difference between them with their unanimous love of banana bread is that Ric isn’t too fond of the chocolate chips in this recipe – he tolerates them, but I think he truly believes that they have no right to be in any type of banana bread!  If I remember to, sometimes I’ll add the chocolate to the batter just before I put it in the oven and only into one side of the bread.

                               Ingredients   eaten

This recipe from Allrecipes, is probably one of the simpler ones I’ve made and believe me, I’ve made copious banana breads, cakes and muffins over the years.  Mush the bananas, add some melted butter, an egg and mix that into your flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and your batter is ready.  After baking for about 45 minutes, you have a fluffy, spongy yummy cake.  It’s even better when it’s still warm from the oven – just ask Leanne and Ric!

Squares cut

Fall Baking

When the leaves start to turn brilliant reds, yellows & oranges, that means it’s time to take a trip to the local orchard and pick some fresh apples to do some yummy baking. Whether it’s for a family gathering, like Thanksgiving, or just because you have an afternoon that’s an “inside” kind-of-day (like yesterday was!), the smell of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven just gives you a cozy kind of feeling.  A few weeks ago, I went to Frootogo Orchard in Waterdown to do some apple picking and had a pretty fun time!  The trees are dwarf trees, so it’s easy to see what you’re picking, whether you’re 3 feet tall or 6 feet tall and there’s a very good variety of apples.  I, and when I say “I”, I mean the kidlets, decided on picking Honeycrisp and Cortland apples. I got home and picked out a few simple recipes with my mini bushel of apples.  First one, of course, was to make some yummy apple sauce – it’s a family recipe, so I wanted to see if I could make it taste just as good as I remember when I was a kid.  I don’t think it was as good, but for my first crack at it, it passed the “kid test”!  Plus, the aroma from the apples and cinnamon simmering on the stove filled the house!

Easy peasy apple sauce

Quick and easy apple sauce

Next, was apple crumble!  Now this is definitely one of my FAVOURITE desserts…..add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I’m in heaven!  I got this delicious recipe from Martha Stewart’s website, although I chose the Apple Cranberry Crumble instead of the traditional “apple only” crumble. It was very simple to follow, didn’t take very much time at all and the pecans in the crumble added just that little extra bit of flavour. The only thing in the recipe that I changed was I used dried cranberries instead of frozen or fresh, even though she specifically said not to – I’m kind of a rebel that way  😉

Oh so delicious Apple Cranberry Crumble

Oh so delicious Apple Cranberry Crumble

There are so many different goodies to make with apples – they’re so versatile when it comes to baking and each type of apple creates a different taste too.  Just a bit of advice (from personal experience), if you’re following a recipe and it calls for a certain type of apple, for example, Honeycrisp, Empire or Fuji, be sure to use that type.  If you substitute the recipe with another type, like Red Delicious, your baking may not turn out the way you want it to or could even be mushy and lacking in taste.

Here’s a little humour to hold you over until my next blog – How do you make an apple turnover??…………………Push it down a hill     Hahahaha 🙂